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Mike Sullivan has been the constant in the Penguins’ season

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Through injuries and tough stretches, the Penguins have thrived thanks largely to their steady head coach

Toronto Maple Leafs v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

As NHL teams get to the official midpoint of their 82-game season, the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in a great position. They’re on pace for 110 points. No team in the league has better than the Pens’ +32 goal differential.

Pittsburgh is controlling the controllables. Their 16-4-3 home record is the best mark in the league. While the team has had incredibly bad luck to suffer a myriad of injuries just from the beginning, there’s one big factor of why the first half of the 2019-20 season hasn’t already sunk all hopes.

This year has doubtlessly been a wonderful job coaching by Mike Sullivan. His name is — and ought to be — in the mix for the Jack Adams coach of the year award.

The steadiness and consistency of message from Sullivan has been necessary, and paid off. While players have cycled in and out of the lineup with injuries, the constant has been the instruction.

This was on display last night, on the road down 2-1 going into the third period against Montreal.

“One of the things we said to them going into the third was let’s not open it up and play a high-risk game,” Sullivan said. “We’re one shot away from getting the tying goal. It may take us 15 minutes to get it. Eighteen minutes to get it. It may take us five minutes to get it. But we just have to continue to play the game that’s bringing us success.”

It took 5:24 for that goal to come. Fittingly enough it was scored by one of the biggest heroes of the season in Bryan Rust.

As a team sport, there’s plenty of places to give credit for the Pens’ success. First and foremost, Tristan Jarry has performed at league-best levels. Rust and Jake Guentzel (prior to his serious injury) have been amazing. Evgeni Malkin has lit up the scoreboard and played much better than last year. The team in general has controlled shots for and limited shots and chances against very well this season.

A lot of that has been rooted in the coaching. The Pens have gone 15-5-4 since Sidney Crosby got injured, finding a way to win on many nights, somehow someway doing what it takes to pull out positive results despite all the tribulations they have endured. A big reason for they’ve found those ways is the man in the suit behind the bench.